I began my showbusiness career in the spring of 1954 impersonating the singer Johnnie Ray on the Tony Grant TV show in Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania. 

I first heard Johnnie Ray on the radio and asked my sister who the girl was who was singing. She said it wasn’t a girl, but a guy who was very emotional onstage. Johnnie’s performance was galvanizing. He would drop to his knees and cry, and pull on his hair. He would take the microphone off its stand, and go into the audience as he sang. At the time, no singers had ever done these things. When I saw him perform at the Paramount Theater in New York, I was totally mesmerized. At home, I would play his records and imitate his singing style, and dream of performing with him.

Me performing as Johnnie Ray, 1954.

A cousin of mine suggested that I come out to Wilkesbarre and audition for the Tony Grant TV Show, a predecessor to shows like The Voice or American Idol. Tony had me on several times, and invited me to join him in his revue that summer at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

Me with Tony Grant at the revue, 1954.

One afternoon during the run of the revue, I was told that Johnnie wanted to see my impersonation of him. Afterwards, he congratulated me on a “sincere performance”, and took me by the hand to the main room at the Steel Pier, where he was appearing. For the next week, I performed with Johnnie, impersonating him, and the dream came true.

I also auditioned for Ted Mack’s amateur hour, and appeared on his show that summer, doing my impersonation of Johnnie Ray. What a summer.